Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Policy

A: A road charge is a system where all drivers pay to maintain the roads based on how much they drive, rather than how much gas they consume.
A: The pilot program is a field trial approved by the Legislature to explore road charging as a potential long-term replacement for the gas tax. More than 5,000 volunteer participating vehicles are testing various road charging methods to compare how the performance of each concept measures against criteria. The pilot program will inform the Legislature’s decision in June, 2017 on whether and how to move forward with a full-scale road charge program.
A: The pilot launched on July 1, 2016 and will last for nine months through March, 2017.
A: California needs a sustainable and equitable way to pay for and keep pace with road maintenance and repair needs. The state’s current fuel excise tax is sufficient to fund only $2.3 billion of work—leaving $5.7 billion in unfunded repairs each year.

Our current transportation funding system relies on revenue from the gas tax and other fuel taxes that are outdated and in decline due to the increase in hybrid and electric vehicles and the improving fuel efficiency – even as more cars use California’s roads and wear and tear increases. In fact, by 2030 as much as half of the revenue that could have been collected from the gas tax will be lost to fuel efficiency. California drivers ultimately suffer the consequences of delayed road maintenance through poor road quality and high vehicle repair costs. A recent transportation study found that California’s spend an annual average of $762 on vehicle repair costs due to poorly maintained roads, and that 564 of the state’s bridges are in need of repair.
A: Senate Bill 1077 (2014) specifically requires that privacy implications are taken into account, especially with regard to location data. Privacy issues were addressed through the Technical Advisory Committee process and privacy protections will be incorporated in the pilot.
A: Senate Bill 1077 (2014) created the Road Charge Pilot Program as well as a 15-member volunteer “Technical Advisory Committee” (TAC) to study, gather input and make recommendations on the parameters of the pilot. The TAC members represented the state’s transportation, social equity, privacy rights, and telecommunications interests, among others. The TAC engaged in a yearlong process to solicit feedback and input from a broad and diverse group of stakeholders. During its process, the TAC:

  • Held 12 public meetings throughout the state
  • Reached out and asked for feedback and input from over 400 stakeholder groups and every elected official that represents California.
  • Conducted public surveys and focus groups to gain a better understanding of the public’s views and opinions of the current condition of California’s roads, perceptions of how transportation is funded, and to gauge public reaction to road charging as a replacement for the gas tax
  • Briefed reporters and newspaper editors in every major news media outlet to seek help in broadcasting the work of the TAC to the general public
A: A permanent road charge program can only be enacted by the Legislature. If approved, a road charge program could replace the existing gas tax.
A: “User pays” is a time-tested and familiar principle, as evidenced by our electricity, water and cell phone bills. California is examining how it could apply this strategy to its roads: those who use the roadway network and benefit from it are also the ones to pay for it. Another reason California is studying a road charge is to carefully consider whether and how a road charge system might be designed efficiently for the unique needs of Californians—without being overly burdensome for vehicle owners to comply with or overly costly for the state to administer.
A: In December 2015, Congress passed and the President signed into law the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. It is the first long-term authorization since 2005’s Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), which expired in 2009. In the FAST Act, Congress recognized the need to demonstrate user-based alternative revenue mechanisms, utilizing a user fee model (road charge) to maintain the long-term solvency of the Federal Highway Trust Fund. The enactment of the FAST Act created a five-year, $95 million grant program which is eligible to a state or group of states to test the design, acceptance, and implementation of a future road charge alternative revenue mechanism.

Volunteering

A: The road charge pilot program is an opportunity for drivers representative of the geographic, demographic and socioeconomic diversity of California to participate in a meaningful study to help determine if a road charge model could be an equitable, sustainable and adaptable revenue mechanism capable of replacing the deteriorating gas tax model. As any change to the current gas tax model would impact all of the state’s motorists, it is important that diverse perspectives are represented during the pilot so the Legislature has all of the information it needs before making a decision about whether and how to proceed with a full-scale road charge program.
A: We have past our mid-point in the pilot and are no longer accepting any new volunteers. You can stay connected by signing up for the interest list here. By joining this community of people you will get the latest information about the pilot program by receiving regular email updates on the pilot status.
A: Caltrans employed a number of methods to spread the word and recruit volunteer participants. These included utilizing the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and other state departments to make drivers aware of the volunteer opportunity and to engage a number of partners that can reach out to and recruit a large number of people. Mass media tactics was also utilized to make sure that visibility was created around the program and that the opportunity was presented to the general public. More information is available at www.CaliforniaRoadChargePilot.com.
A: Yes, as a member of the Technical Advisory Committee, the California Trucking Association volunteered to participate in the pilot, citing interest from many in the industry in understanding better the potential impacts of a road charge and being part of the discussion about whether and how to implement it. The California Trucking Association assisted in recruiting more than 50 trucks representing seven distinct industry segments currently participating in the pilot.
A: No. The program is free for volunteers and no actual money is being exchanged. Participants submit mock payments via mail or a secure website for testing purposes.
A: The pilot gives participants several options for reporting mileage, including several which do not require technology in the vehicle and one which does not require any mileage reporting. These options include:

  • Time permit: Similar to a vehicle registration fee, the participant purchases unlimited road use for a specific period of time.
  • Mileage permit: The participant pre-pays to drive a certain number of miles.
  • Odometer charge: The participant pays a fee per mile based on periodic odometer readings.
  • Automated mileage reporting without general location data: Vehicles have equipment that measures and reports mileage automatically to an account manager—either provided by a state agency or a private company. The account manager periodically (monthly or quarterly) sends the motorist an invoice for road use.
  • Automated mileage reporting with general location data: In-vehicle equipment reports mileage traveled to a third party account manager which invoices the participant. The equipment also provides general location data so the participant is credited for travel out-of-state or on private roads. Technology options recommended by the Technical Advisory Committee for this option include in-vehicle telematics, smartphone apps, and plug-in devices for the vehicle’s on-board diagnostics (OBD-II) data port.
The pilot does not actually collect fees from participants, but gives participants the choice of submitting a mock payment via mail or a secure website for testing purposes.
A: No, participants do not need to purchase or install any new technology to be part of the pilot, and many can use existing technology such as smartphones and their vehicle odometer. The pilot gives participants several options for reporting mileage, including those which do not require technology in the vehicle or mileage reporting.
A: Senate Bill 1077 requires the pilot program:

  1. Include at least one alternative that does not rely on electronic vehicle location data.
  2. Collect a minimum amount of personal information including location tracking information, necessary to implement the road charge program.
  3. Ensure that processes for collecting, managing, storing, transmitting, and destroying data are in place to protect the integrity of the data and safeguard the privacy of drivers. Participant’s information shall not be disclosed, distributed, made available, sold, or accessed by any private entity.
Following implementation of the pilot, the California State Transportation Agency will issue a report including recommendations regarding public, private and law enforcement access to data collected and stored for purposes of the road charge to ensure individual privacy rights are protected pursuant to Section 1 of Article I of the California Constitution should permanent implementation of the road charge be considered in the future.

Equity

A: If a road charge program were implemented, the impact on individual households would depend on particular circumstances. The pilot program allows us to examine this question in greater detail.
A: All vehicles, regardless of fuel source, cause wear and tear to roads and contribute to roadway congestion. The pilot is testing how a road charge could impact electric and fuel efficient vehicles and allow them to pay a fair share to maintain the roads. Although the payment method is different, the road charge is based on the same idea as a gas tax: the amount drivers pay to maintain roads should correspond to the number of miles they drive.
A: By looking at a road charge model we are researching alternatives to create a more equitable way for all California drivers to contribute to the upkeep of our state roads. Regardless of fuel efficiency, all drivers are using California roads and under-funded roads are costly for everyone. A recent study found that Californian’s spend an annual average of $762 on vehicle repair costs each year due to poorly maintained roads. We are researching a road charge as a potential long-term, equitable solution to adequately fund California roads in the face of declining tax revenue.
A: The road charge pilot is a test. The Legislature has not enacted a permanent road charge program. California’s gas excise taxes are legislatively directed for roadway maintenance only. If the state were to shift to a road charge method, the same legislative protections can be developed to ensure revenues go only to roadway maintenance.
A: The purpose of exploring road charge is to find a sustainable and equitable funding source to maintain our roads for all Californians, regardless of where they live. The current system of gas taxes means that, all else equal, motorists who drive long distances pay more because they burn more fuel. However, national research shows that rural households tend to own vehicles with lower fuel efficiency, which means they pay more per mile driven. Under a road charge, everyone would pay the same amount per mile driven. The pilot test allows us to examine the relative impacts on urban and rural drivers in greater detail.

Alternative Funding Options

A: Yes, there are other options to increase funds for road maintenance, including increasing vehicle license fees, increasing the gas tax, increasing sales taxes (including local sales tax measures), tolling more highways or allocating state money from other areas like education and health care. California’s Legislature, the State Transportation Agency, and some local authorities are currently looking at all of these alternatives, and some have been implemented. Road charging is a promising, long-term option to address the systemic problems with our current gas tax system.
A: California is leading the nation in transitioning to a more sustainable vehicle fleet. However, state funding has fallen dramatically below the levels needed to maintain the current transportation system. Other states are also confronting challenges in funding their roads and bridges. About a dozen states have examined road charges. A few have conducted pilot tests, including Nevada, Washington, Minnesota, and Oregon. Oregon ran two pilot programs and recently implemented a road charge system. The Northeastern states have examined a regional road charging system, and other states like Texas and Wisconsin have studied its potential. A consortium of 14 western states, including California, is researching issues and opportunities for multi-state road charging systems.
A: Cars are getting higher miles per gallon (MPG) independent of trends in oil and gas prices. Even pickups and sport utility vehicles (SUVs) have vastly improved MPG over models sold just a few years ago. This is a great success for California and for the country. But when people buy less fuel, they pay less in taxes that fund roadway maintenance and repair. As Californians continue to drive extensively and cause wear-and-tear to the roadways, we need to find a fair and equitable revenue source to replace the gas tax and maintain roads for future generations that treat in a way that treats all drives equitably regardless of what car they drive.
A: Raising the gas tax could be a short-term solution to funding roadway maintenance and repair, but the gas tax continually declines on a per-mile basis as California’s vehicle fleet becomes more fuel-efficient and Californians purchase fewer gallons of fuel. Vehicles are now getting more miles per gallon or are using alternate fuels and electricity where no gas tax is charged. As part of an effort to find viable long-term solutions to roadway funding, the Legislature passed, and Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 1077 in 2014 to explore road charging as one potential option.
A: In November 2015, the Mineta Transportation Institute released findings, sponsored by the United States Department of Transportation, on the estimated relative cost of a gas tax versus a road user charge. The findings were developed from an analysis of vehicle miles travel data extracted from the 2010-2011 California Household Travel Survey. The study looked at current driving habit data among various groups, including urban/rural and low/high income households. The study found no statistically significant difference in the cost of the two programs to California households.

Pilot Operations

A: The California Road Charge Pilot Program has generated significant press coverage since the launch of the pilot. You can access a selection of news articles and media segments on the project website. Please click HERE to access current news on our website!